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In Lebanon, Rape Doesn't Quite Mean Rape

Posted: 12/12/2011 10:27

Yasmin's husband had been away working and she was excited to have him back. Knowing he would be back late, she stayed up to wait for him.

"He had been away for two weeks and came back at 3am. I wanted to hug him but he pushed me away. He said he was sick and I believed him. But on the 16th day [after he came home] I was sleeping and he woke me up and was viciously having sex with me. He left me bleeding. I was really in pain... but it was the mental pain that destroyed me."

Yasmin is one of hundreds of women raped by their husbands in Lebanon every year. She recalls her shock at the sudden change in his behaviour, with him taking to regularly abusing her both physically and mentally.

Her story is made worse by the fact that there is little she can do to prevent it occurring again. Currently in Lebanon there is no legislation to protect women from domestic abuse and no such thing as rape within marriage. Last year the then government announced a draft law which promised to criminalise rape within marriage for the first time, a decision hailed as a huge achievement by campaigners.

Yet a subcommittee of the Lebanese parliament tasked with amending the law has announced sweeping changes that threaten to gut it of any meaning. The eight-member committee has decided, following opposition from several sectors, including the two highest Muslim bodies in the country, to remove specific references to rape within marriage, and make the law more general.

Zoya Rouhana, the director of KAFA, a Lebanese NGO which campaigns for women's rights, condemned the move. "With this stance they have trampled on women's humanity and dignity. They have allowed for the humiliation and oppression of women," she said.

KAFA's Beirut centre receives about 300 cases of marital rape per year; women forced to have anal sex, beaten by their partners or raped on their periods. Those 300 realistically constitute only a small proportion of those affected as reporting rates for rape are notoriously low, especially when there is no legal protection.

Objections to the law are based on the framework of Lebanon's constitution - which declares that family issues, which have traditionally included domestic violence, are dealt with on an intra-sectarian basis. Religious figures have claimed that the law would lead to the breakup of the family, with many believing rape is impossible between husband and wife.

Lebanese MP Imad Hout, one of the eight committee members tasked with making the decisions, told a local Lebanese newspaper: "there's nothing called rape between a husband and a wife. It's called forcing someone violently to have intercourse."

This statement has raised criticism (as well as a fair amount of derision online) from those who claim that this secretive stance benefits those in control of the family, more often than not men. One woman who had been raped by her husband recalls plucking up the courage to speak to local police but being told that there was little that could be done because it was a "family matter". "Everyone knows what is going on," she admits.

Yet the makeup of the committee, on which the majority oppose the law, means the bill will only pass if watered down significantly. It is likely that by the time it becomes law it will be stripped of all specific references to rape within marriage, making it effectively meaningless for those in abusive relationships.

Yet there seems to be a resoluteness behind the campaign, with KAFA swearing to start again and propose new legislation. One woman regularly raped by her husband has a simple message for the politicians making the decision: "Let them look [at their lives], how they are comfortable and then look at us. We will take to the streets for this."

Names in this article have been changed.

 

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